There is no dearth of knowledge when it comes to different ways to achieve and maintain a healthy and productive life. Especially, in an era of information overload. There are tons of videos, blogs, articles, books on productivity, peak performance, emotional well-being, health and creativity.
Then why is it that, when it comes to taking actions and getting results, none of this seems to work? Or work only for a short duration and then it is all back to square one? What’s the missing link? How to achieve sustainable results for better productivity, good health and mental stability?
Imagine for a moment a perfect Habit Management System. One that supports and enhances your well-being and performance. Telling you exactly what to start, stop, and continue. How to change habits with the change in age and era ?. What does it take to have a healthy and meaningful life?
Such a system would have to be :
- Flexible: the ability to do quick changes as and when required
- Actionable: small actions aligned with your environment
- Simple: clear to understand and easy to do
- Time-bound: long and short term targets
With these principles, we have built a system. A system based on the latest research in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral sciences. The goal is two-fold. To achieve breakthrough results in those areas of life that matter to you and to ensure sustainability. Let us look at the system and the various processes involved with it.
A Program based on this is already available know more here HIKE
H.I.K.E stands for Habitual (Habit + Ritual) – Implementers – Kinetizers – Enhancers. Starting with recognition of current patterns to building new habits for outstanding results.
Habitual: Recognize and diffuse unfruitful patterns, the formation of new good habits.
Implementers : A set of rituals designed for simple yet effective execution of activities.
Kinetizers : The fuel that keeps it burning, acts as a catalyst for ensuring consistency.
Enhancers : Things that take the outcomes to a higher level of accomplishment.
Habitual (Habit + Ritual):
Habit: As the philosopher ( no it’s not Aristotle ) Will Durant said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Our entire day, from waking up to sleep ( including sleep) is all a series of habits. Good habits and bad habits. We are so used to them that habits have become our second nature. ‘Habits’ are actions. Actions have a trigger. And triggers are a response to contextual cues. For example, Opening the fridge (action) after entering the kitchen (contextual cue). Or, putting on a seatbelt (action) after getting into the car (contextual cue). Research shows that the repetition of simple actions done in a context builds habits. We call it as associative learning. The initiation of action is now on external cues. There is no need for conscious attention or motivation. Thus, triggers are likely to persist even after conscious motivation or interest dissipates.
Habit is about: What to do?
Ritual: Here we bring in the daily rituals (some weekly/monthly) to follow the habit triggers. This is about doing things mindfully. Rituals ensure that the habits once triggered does not get automated. We stay mindful of the activities we do. This helps us focus on the task at hand and the entire process becomes rewarding. Being present about the rituals gives us the opportunity to be creative. This helps get better results, faster. Thus Habitual (Habit + Ritual) is the foundation of this robust health management system.
Ritual is about: How to do?
Cues and how to use: A 5W’s approach.
- When: A particular time in a day is a cue for a certain set of activities. For example, bedtime. There are a certain set of activities you do in a loop to wind down your day. For example, put the phone on the charger, set-up your alarm, make the bed, switch on the AC, take your medicines, go to the washroom switch-off the lights, etc.
Use of this Cue:
This cue can be used to do the daily rituals you want to set for yourself. Taking the same example of bedtime, I have designed a ‘Sleep Ritual’.
Sleep Rituals: Dinner Time → Wind-down → Digital / Social Media off → Set alarm → Sleep Music →Skincare – moisturizers →Lights off → Good Sleep
- Where: You wash your hands every time you go to a bathroom. You put something into your mouth every time you enter the kitchen. All these are examples of ‘where’ or location-based cues. These are the cues based on the environment.
Use of this Cue:
If opening the fridge on entering the kitchen if my cue, then I can choose what to keep in the fridge. Changing the content of the fridge. Pastries, icecreams to fruits, salads, etc work great. Also when it comes to developing good sleep habits, a bedroom can be used as a cue for the sleep ritual to begin.
Kitchen as a Where cue: Enter → Open Fridge → Find Fruits/ Green Salads → Eat healthy→ Stay fit
- Why: Many habits are a trigger to something else that happens in your life. Your phone buzzes, so you pick it up to check what’s it about. The little notification bar lights up on WhatsApp, so you click it to see who is it and what is it. These are examples of habits that are triggered by an event. These habits happen because something else happens.
Use of this Cue:
I get a daily morning call from my team member. Instead of jumping at the phone on the first ring, I allow the phone to ring 5 times. During these 5 rings, I focus my attention on my breathing. This small act of mindful breathing gives me the required clarity to start my day in a calm and composed way.
Call from team-member → Wait → Listen five rings → Focus on breathing → Take the call → Start a calm and composed day.
- Who: There are some personalities in our life with whom we have certain cues associated. Gym partner, reading club members, party buddy, etc. So we behave in a certain way when we are close to these people. Imagine people who share most of their bad habits and addictions with their best friends.
Use of this Cue:
I have a friend who is a strong believer in continuous learning. Every time I interact with him, I get to know about new books to read, new podcasts to listen or new courses to do. Of course, once you start getting such help from a friend you tend to give it back. Thus entering into a positive spiral of learning and growth for both.
Friend → A Learner → Conversations on books/courses/information →Positive spiral → Learning and Growth.
- What: Things that bring the craving. Looking at a chilled, flavored soda gives people the motivation to buy and have it. Electronic gadgets, food packets, mobile app icons, posters/ pictures on magazines and websites, are all such triggers. These Cues are due to our current emotions associated with these things. Every time a smoker feels anxious, he goes for another cigarette. These cues are associated with bad habits.
Use of this Cue:
Every time you feel anxious, or every time you see a soda bottle you can use it for breathing practice. Taking 5 deep breaths. Bringing your attention to the flow of air inside your body. Following it till the end of that breath. This gives you the benefits of deep breathing. Also, it makes you aware of your choice, thus giving you an option to let go of that cigarette or that soda bottle.
A chilled soda bottle → Do the 5 breaths activity → Relaxed → Choice point → Option to say NO → Health and Happiness.
There are 3 components to Implementers :
- Intervention of ACT
- Implementation Intentions
1.Interventions of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy(ACT) :
Our emotions play a big role in acting on our plans or in failing to work on those. Many times we don’t know the exact reason but we just feel like not doing something. It might be going for a walk or sticking to certain food habits or meditation etc. What do you do when you feel like that? We want to run away from the feeling. We try to change it, manipulates it, push it away, or try to run away from the experience of that particular emotion. “How to take action in spite of trying to change thoughts and unwanted emotions?” ACT says Manipulating is past accepting is the future.
Processes that make this framework are put along a hexaflex. It is a Hexaflex because it is a hexagon that is flexible. Let’s look at the six core processes :
- Cognitive diffusion
- Self as a Context
- Committed Action.
Acceptance I’m sure you must have heard about acceptance a lot. As soon as anyone says acceptance, the mind dwells on a holistic & Buddhist sort of approach. But, ACT defines acceptance as an effort. Effort so that we can think differently from our instinctive avoidance of negative thoughts. And different from Avoiding potentially negative experiences. Rather than trying to run away from unpleasant experiences, you take them head-on. Accept them without trying to change them or pushing them away. Acceptance is not the goal of ACT. It is a method of encouraging actions that will lead to positive change.
Cognitive Diffusion. This sounds complicated. It is what we do as an individual when we react to our thoughts and feelings. The fog that is there right in front of our eyes and we are not able to see our next action. We defuse our negative experiences with our actions. It paralyzes us from taking any action and we are not able to see things clearly. Diffusion does not mean that we avoid the feeling, but rather we are with the feeling. We don’t ignore them but we are with them and still take the action required. It also doesn’t mean changing thoughts or disputing them.
Being in the Present. Says it all. Being in the present moment is the new throwaway line. ACT defines Being in the present moment as not just being or coming at the moment but rather not to try to predict or change the experience. It is very easy to be in the present moment when we are happy. But, it is very difficult when our emotions are completely negative or something which we don’t want to experience. That is why getting back into where you are or in the present moment is challenging.
Self As a Context. We look at our self as our experiences, our emotions, and our thoughts. It diffuses with the idea of our experiences. It gives us an alternative to look at us from the outside of ourselves and of our current experience. We are not only what happens to us, but we are the ones who also experiences what happens to us.
Values. Many times we confuse values with goals. Values are not goals, rather values are something that drives our goals. It keeps us motivated to move towards our goals. Even though we want to live by our values, there are many times we quit. Consciously or unconsciously, we get away from values. In the ACT, values become a defining factor that moves towards our goals.
Committed action. This is the last vertex of the hexaflex. This is where our long-term goals and our short-term goals are committed to our values. Behaviors that are rewarded and that can change our life. Knowing the behavior and its awareness impact us.
- Implementation intentions: Ideas are cheap. And in today’s world, knowledge is free. Then why can’t our ideas of a fit and healthy life combined with the knowledge about diet and exercise work?
It is because the good intentions of a good healthy life remain as intentions. There is no execution of those ideas. There is no implementation of all those good intentions. Research(ref 8) was done with 3 groups to find the reason. The first group was the control group. They were simply asked to track how often they exercised. The second group was the “motivation” group. They were asked not only to track their workouts but also to read some material on the benefits of exercise. The researches told them about the benefits of exercise. The third group was asked to write this :
“During the next week, I will do at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME] in [PLACE].”
The results were surprising. If only 35% to 38% of participants of Group 1 and 2 exercised, there were 91% from Group 3 who stuck to their regime. Perhaps even more surprising was the fact that having a specific plan worked really well, but motivation didn’t work at all. Group 1 (the control group) and Group 2 (the motivation group) performed essentially the same levels of exercise. Or, as the researchers put it, “Motivation … had no significant effects on exercise behavior.” This is why we see so many of us getting motivated, buying tracksuits, shoes, diet boxes, and in a few days do nothing with it. The sentence that the third group filled out is what researchers refer to as an implementation intention, which is a plan you make beforehand about when and where to act. That is, how you intend to implement a particular habit.
The simple way to apply this strategy to your habits is to fill out this sentence:
I will [Act] at [WHEN] in [WHERE].
I will ‘drink 1 glass of water‘ when ‘I wake up’ in my ‘bed/kitchen’.
I will ‘write a blog post’ every ‘weekend @8am‘ in my ‘study’.
I will ‘walk for one hour’ at ‘7 a.m.’ in my ‘local park’.
” Ideas are easy. Implementation is simple. But, simple is not easy. “
- Improvisations :
Health Management system we build on H.I.K.E is robust but it’s also flexible. Thus every time the context changes, the system also goes through alterations. Same applies when it comes to Implementers. Both, Interventions of ACT and Implementation intentions are to build for execution. But in reality, things keep changing. That’s where this third component of Implementers comes handy.
Here are some of the 5 techniques of Improvisation:
- “Yes and …”
- Creativity ( play, fun)
- Emotion shift
1.”Yes and …” : Let take our example Implementation Intention ” I will ‘walk for one hour’ at ‘7 a.m.’ in my ‘local park'”. The improv here can be “
“Yes and I will also listen to a podcast on Mindful eating”
- Clarity: A friend recently started the daily mindfulness activity of meditation. He has a very good Implementation Intention created for this activity. The only problem is, his kids create a lot of disturbance and so he loses his temper. ” What is the use of such meditation which doesn’t calm you and makes you angrier?” said his wife, thereby adding salt to the injury. In such cases, it’s important to get clarity of the activity. In the case of meditation, our monkey mind creates more disturbance than the kids around us. So the real issue here is of clarity of what meditation is. One has to understand that it’s all about being with disturbances. Acknowledging, accepting, and letting it go. Thus clarity of the activity can transform the experience.
- Creativity: It is important to keep implementations playful and joyful. You can make them interesting by adding new things/ideas. For example, if you want to stop drinking flavored sugar water/soda, you can replace it with fragrant herbal teas. Being creative in making various kinds of teas can also be therapeutic ‘me time’ activity.
- Emotion shift: Whatever emotion you start with for implementation, you can always shift them during the activity. Let’s say I am feeling sad and its gym time. I can take up the game of emotion shifting from sadness to amusement or contentment. It’s not only about moving from bad to good, or negative to positive. It is more about developing better control over our emotions. This helps in executing the implementation intentions
- Specific: Of course this could have been the first improviser. But there is a reason to keep it at the end. While you do all the improvisation techniques, make sure you are altering a specific element of the activity. In case it didn’t work don’t throw the baby with the bathwater. Just re-adjust that specific element and keep going.
“Why can’t I stick to my daily, simple plan of 20 mins of exercise? “. Sounds like a familiar question?
Like any system, a Health Management System requires order. But what we have in the real-world are constant forces to kill that order, what physicists call entropy. In simple terms, it is the measure of disorder. Entropy increases as disorder increases. For example, if you want playing cards to be kept scattered on a table, it has a very high level of entropy because there is no particular order expected in the arrangement of cards. So if you leave your room and come back after a week, you will still find it as it is. On the contrary, if you build a house of cards, the level of entropy is very low and the expected order in the arrangement of cards is high. Forget leaving room for a week, in a few minutes you will see it collapse. As forces of wind, gravity, friction, etc are constantly working on it to increase the entropy level. The same applies to our health management systems. We buy new equipment, costumes, tools, memberships only to see the house of cards to collapse in a few days.
To be or entropy: There can be two ways to deal with entropy. One is to design the systems with as many paths of least resistance as possible. This is possible to a certain extent with the help of ‘Habitual (H) of the H.I.K.E process”. And the other is to induce energy into the system to fight entropy with what we call Kinetizers ( derived from the word Kinetic energy).
Types of Kinetizers :
- Group Dynamics
- Accountability buddy
- Social Declaration
- Commitment tool
Group Dynamics: To get started with my writing habit, I (as usual) scheduled it in my calendar. A daily one-hour activity. I did it for the first 3 days. then I kept dismissing the notification for the next few weeks. Finally, it was too difficult to confront, so I removed it from my calendar.
Group dynamics are very effective especially for a habit which you otherwise do in silos. When it comes to an activity like exercising, Gym, or walking in the park, you have other people around and that’s comforting and also motivating at some level. For a habit like writing its important to fight entropy with a kinetizer like Group Dynamics. I did that by joining a writing group. This group does weekly timeboxing, group calls, shares writing prompts, does post reviews/ feedback, etc. There are new challenges and thus there is regular upskilling. Both leading to a state of flow that helps fight entropy.
Accountability Buddy: The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) did a study on accountability and found that you have 65% chances of completing a goal if you commit to someone. And if you have a specific accountability appointment with a person you’ve committed, you will increase your chance of success by up to 95%. They may not have the same goals, but they do have some intentions, which is to keep playing the game. And partners can not just encourage each other but also give brutally honest feedback. Thus building a system to counter entropy. Of course like any other system, this too is subject to its own entropy but the Yin-Yang (See-saw) model keeps inducing energy in the system till the commitment is present.
Social Declaration: It is an extension of the ‘Accountability Buddy’ wherein you do a declaration to a larger audience. So your reputation is at stake. For example, a social declaration to maintain your weight for the next one year done on Facebook can work against entropy very effectively. There are also some mobile applications and online groups that can be used for Social Declaration.
Commitment tool: It is a mix of group dynamics, accountability, and gamification of habits to ensure your “skin in the game”. A very powerful approach to build healthy habits. R&M Daily Rituals is one such commitment tool used very effectively to lead a Rich and Meaningful Life.
We first looked at how to form good habits using “Habitual”. Then, we learned to execute using the “Implementer”. Next, Kinetizers help us to bring sustainability in our habits. Now its time to look at the different principles of enhancing our experience of this journey. There are 3 key principles, we call them Enhancers :
- Evidencing :
When it comes to Health Management, changes take place in the background, to begin with. Thus it is all the more reason to have some things which you can see as a manifestation of those changes. For marathon runners, it is the medals which they can decorate as reminders of their efforts and achievement. When I started my journey of mindfulness it was really difficult to evidence it. I was having great experience and insights. But how do I create evidence for it? So I added ‘Mindful Tea drinking’ as another activity. With that, I got an opportunity to create a small ‘Tea bar’ at home. It is a corner in my house that reminds me of my achievements. It encourages me to take part in mindful activities every time I make tea for myself or others in my tea bar.
Evidencing can happen in a variety of forms. It can be posters, cards, photographs of exercising on social media. Decorating the kitchen with images of healthy food. Health scoreboard, Habit tracker, Journal, can also work as enhancers.
- Recalibration :
Once we see the system working, we may get too comfortable. It is important to regularly review our targets and activities. Whenever required we should do the course correction of the activities. Recalibration of our goals keeping an eye on the scoreboard helps to make the system better. It is not only about raising the bar. When things are not going well it is important to lower the bar and yet keep the spirits high.
- Reward yourself:
People around you will recognize your achievement. They may even seek your guidance. But, why wait for others, start by rewarding your small efforts, ensure you gift yourself on reaching milestones. Some such gifts can further reinforce your new lifestyle. For example, when I lost 10 Kgs, I started gifting myself with new T-Shirts. This not only gave me the feeling of getting rewarded for my efforts but it also updated my wardrobe, which had anyways become a happy problem to have.
A program based on this is already available know more here HIKE
I’d really appreciate your feedback, especially on the following questions:
- What is most engaging about this system?
- What seems the least clear, doable, or useful from your perspective?
- What challenges would you expect to face if you tried to use HIKE in your life?
- Do you have any ideas for ways of explaining this system in a more practical, simple ways?
1. Neal DT, Wood W, Labrecque JS, Lally P. How do habits guide behavior? Perceived and actual triggers of habits in daily life. J Exp Soc Psychol. 2012;48:492–498. [Google Scholar]
3. Bayley PJ, Frascino JC, Squire LR. Robust habit learning in the absence of awareness and independent of the medial temporal lobe. Nature. 2005;436(7050):550–553. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
4. Hull CL. Principles of behavior: an introduction to behavior theory. New York, NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts; 1943. [Google Scholar]
5. Lally P, van Jaarsveld CHM, Potts HWW, Wardle J. How are habits formed: Modeling habit formation in the real world. Euro J Soc Psychol. 2010;40:998–1009. [Google Scholar]
7. Gardner B, de Bruijn GJ, Lally P. A systematic review and meta-analysis of applications of the Self-Report Habit Index to nutrition and physical activity behaviors. Ann Behav Med. 2011;42(2):174–187. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
- British Journal of Health Psychology 7 (May 2002): 163–184.